You might’ve heard about this by now, but a popular and respected Kuwait-based blogger has been sued by Benihana for writing a bad review on his blog about his experience at their restaurant.
When I read it, I just found it to be someone’s opinion of a place they went to– people write about that stuff all the time; from movies to retail to hotels to food to gadgets and telecoms- people voice their opinion about everything these days. What really baffled me though is how this ‘Mike Servo’ decided to handle this review (scroll down to the comments to see the full thing)- instead of saying ‘Hey Mark, we’re sorry to hear about your experience. Why don’t we meet up and talk about it and see how we can improve things?’ (Wildpeeta do this all the time and people love them for it!), they decide to take the ‘we’re gonna sue your ass’ route.
Benihana’s actions against Mark have resulted in dozens of blog posts (for the full list check out Mark’s 2nd update to the original post), hundreds of tweets about it, tens of posts on their Facebook page– none of which are positive- and lost customers. @AlexanderMcNabb will also be speaking about it on Dubai Eye tomorrow morning. Some (including myself) have even gone as far as posting on Benihana’s US page and tweeting them, but their attitude was all ‘yea it’s not our problem, talk to the franchisee about this’- this is not about who owns what; this is brand and reputation management!
Brands in the region need to understand the degree of influence people have online and the collective power of communities- you can’t turn off the Internet to shut people up, and you certainly can’t get away with suing someone for saying what they think about you, without causing uproar. If anything, customers that complain are the ones you want to win over, because they were passionate enough to take the time to write about you. And you are going to get bad reviews from time to time- whether it’s on Twitter or a blog or Facebook or something else, it’s going to happen- and more so if your brand has a social media presence. How you deal with it though is what separates the winners from the losers. If you acknowledge your faults and show genuine interest in making improvements, you can turn it around to your advantage. If you delete comments because ‘they don’t sound nice’, argue with your audience, and sue your customers for bad reviews, then please delete your Facebook and Twitter accounts, switch off your computer, and go find a cave to live in.
Update: After posting on Benihana HQ’s Facebook page alerting them of the situation, they responded with the following:
“At Benihana, we continuously strive to improve our relationships with our guests and our community. We take any and all customer reviews very seriously and consider them opportunities for improving our operations and making the customer’s BENIHANA experience more unique, authentic, and enjoyable.Over the last few days, we have read your posts regarding an alleged lawsuit filed by “Benihana” against a blogger based in Kuwait for posting an unfavorable review of a newly-opened, BENIHANA restaurant location in Kuwait. We hear you and wish to correct any misinformation.The BENIHANA brand is co-owned by two separate and distinct corporate entities – Benihana, Inc. and Benihana of Tokyo, Inc. We, Benihana, Inc., own, operate and franchise nearly 100 BENIHANA restaurants in states and countries throughout the United States, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. You can find our locations by visiting the www.BENIHANA.com website. Benihana of Tokyo, Inc. owns, operates, or franchises BENIHANA restaurants in various other parts of the world, including, Kuwait. You can view Benihana of Tokyo, Inc.’s locations by visitingwww.BenihanaGroup.com.While we have a shared interest in the BENIHANA brand, we have no control over Benihana of Tokyo, Inc.’s business or legal decisions. Consequently, we cannot comment or opine on the alleged lawsuit filed by Benihana of Tokyo, Inc. except to say that we are never pleased to hear of any BENIHANA customer’s negative experience. We encourage you to share your opinions and comments directly with Benihana of Tokyo, Inc. The company’s contact information is available onwww.BenihanaGroup.com.”
Even though they can’t really help the Kuwait situation, I’m impressed that they actually took time out to escalate this and come back with a proper response and clarify their position in all of this.